This Is How It Feels (Restless)
The Golden Palominos

By Allen Howie

The Golden Palominos are the pet project of drummer Anton Fier, an avant- funk unit whose composition changes, often radically, with each new album. Past Palominos records have played host to reedman John Zorn, Michael Stipe, Richard Thompson, John Lydon, Jack Bruce, Syd Straw, T-Bone Burnett, Don Dixon and Bob Mould.

At its best, the group's inventive rhythmic excursions anchor experimental flights of fancy. The result is music that is "both challenging and engaging, with each new record growing more accessible.

On their sixth release, This Is How It Feels, only Fier, bassist Bill Laswell and guitarist Nicky Skopelitis remain from the original line-up, joined by singers Lori Carson and Lydia Kavanaugh. The sound is fleshed out by guest appearances from the likes of P-Funk veterans Bootsy Collins on guitar and Bernie Worrell on Hammond organ.

With one exception (a gorgeous, rippling cover of Jackson Browne's "These Days"), all twelve of the songs here were written by Fier and Laswell with either Carson or Kavanaugh. The result is lyrically and musically introspective, a graceful sturnbling through treacherous emotional terrain.

The album begins with the aptly titled "Sleepwalk." Over a restless rhythm track, Carson sings as if in a trance. Laswell's bass line nods approvingly as Worrell's organ fills swirl deliciously around it and delicate guitar figures step in and back.

"Prison of the Rhythm" places more weight on the bass and drums, with Carson intoning the lyrics in subdued tones. Like someone who's speaking too softly, it forces you to lean into the song, pulling you off balance and drawing you in before you realize what's happened The sunny pop of "I'm Not Sorry" runs counter to the fierce independence of the lyrics, as Carson draws her line in the sand: "You want a woman without passion/You want it easy/Get a dog then." It's followed by the smoldering title track, as she tries in pleading, sensual tones to draw her lover out.

Kavanaugh takes her first turn on vocals over the rolling, nervous beat of "To a Stranger," but she speaks rather than sings the lyrics and the track quickly feels contrived and monotonous, pushing you out where earlier numbers had pulled you in. The polite funk/pop of the erotically-charged "The Wonder" is a welcome return to form, Carson providing her own harmonies over a feverish melody. It's exactly the same length as "To a Stranger," yet seems to be over in half the time, turnbling straight into the tightly-wound, determination of "Breakdown."

Kavanaugh redeems her earlier performance on the aforementioned "These Days," a cover that makes no sense in this context until you hear it, when it sounds as if it was written exactly this way. It's relaxed, contemplative mood is replaced by the dizzy surge of "Rain Holds," in which Carson puts a brave face on the pain of separation.

"Twist the Knife" is as grim as you might think lyrically, yet the rich, layered textures buoy the song above its emotional weight. That same trick is worked even more neatly on the precise funk of "Bird Flying," in which a suicide victim balks at being sent back in human form. In soulful voice, Carson pleads, "If there are angels/ Can't I be one of them? / Or if not an angel/ Then how about a bird flying?" Sadly, the record ends clumsily with Kavanaugh reciting the lyrics to "A Divine Kiss" with all the annoying earnestness of a freshman English Lit major. Fortunately, it's the shortest song on a mostly sparkling album.